Lamps: The Ruin of the Nation 「ランプ亡国論」の真実



You may be familiar with Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s essay In Praise of Shadows (1933). But were you aware that Tanizaki had a predecessor in the form of a Meiji period crank? I think not! Kaiseki Sata was a Shin Buddhist monk who published a ferocious series of essays in the 1870s, on topics such as “On the Uselessness of Bookkeeping and Ink”, “On Boycotting the Solar Calendar”, “On the Four Dangers of Western-Style Umbrellas”, “On the Great Dangers of Milk”, “On Railways: The Ruin of the Nation”, and everyone’s favorite, “A Caution Against Lamps: The Ruin of the Nation” (1880).

I was unable to find any information about the majority of these essays, but the logic of “Lamps: The Ruin of the Nation” is actually not bad. Sata warns his readers that to light Western-style lamps you need kerosene, but Japan’s only oil fields are in Niigata, and would be depleted within 50 years (1930). If Japan becomes addicted to lamps and exhausts the Niigata fields, they will have to trade their reserve funds for oil until they have no more funds, and the nation will be ruined quod erat demonstratum. The argument is basically that oil is a non-renewable resource, and is therefore not backwards but remarkably foresighted.

“The West became civilized in the Western way,” said Kata, “and Japan will become civilized the Japanese way.” He had no desire to plunge Japan into darkness. Instead, he invented himself a lamp that ran on vegetable oil, to which he gave the suitably native name kankōtō (pictured above; source). He also advocated for Japanese lamps, andon, which ran on fish oil.

Sata only neglected to recognize that Japan could not defend its independence from the oil-powered Western nations without finding some oil of its own. Running steamships and tanks on vegetable oil would have been quite sustainable, but not politically viable. Indeed, the military use of oil was a principal motivation behind imperialism and World War II.

Again, none of the other essays are available online, so I don’t know what the dangers of Western-style umbrellas were, but at least some of them are apparently collected in a journal he ran (also pictured above). Or you can read “Bread: The Ruin of the Nation”, by an unrelated author, at the National Diet Library site. Learn why bread will cause Japan’s physical, spiritual, and economic ruin! If only we had listened…

(Japanese translation)






Posted: February 28th, 2014 | Japan, Signs of the Times 2 Comments »

Dogfight and Palindrome

Here’s a poem: 犬咬合 “A Dogfight” by 愚佛 (“Dumb Buddha”, an anonymous poet), c. 1800:

椀 椀 椀 椀 亦 椀 椀
亦 亦 椀 椀 又 椀 椀  
夜 暗 何 疋 頓 不 分
終 始 只 聞 椀 椀 椀  

Woof! woof! woof! woof! and woof woof!
And! And woof woof! and woof woof!
The night is dark, don’t know how many there are
From dusk to dawn, I hear only woof woof woof!

Here’s another poem: 廻文 “Palindrome” by 加保茶元成 (Motonari Pumpkin), also c. 1800:


Fart fart fart fart fart
Fart fart fart fart fart fart fart
Fart fart fart fart fart
Fart fart fart fart fart fart fart
Fart fart fart fart fart fart fart

Adopted from David Pollack, “Kyoshi: Japanese ‘Wild Poetry'”, Journal of Asian Studies 38.3 (May 1979). Matt already posted about the second poem; I shouldn’t have expected less.

Posted: November 23rd, 2013 | Translations

Reading kuzushiji, kanbun, and other premodern Japanese

Over two years ago Matt wrote an introduction to reading Edo literature. The books that he chose seem to be pretty haphazard and some can no longer be located. Since I’m trying to accomplish the same thing, here is a list of online resources that have helped me. I have no special talent for foreign languages, but if there’s premodern stuff you really want to read, it’s my experience that even if you are not a language genius, a few tools can help you get far.

Kanbun 漢文

Kanbun is classical Chinese, but it also refers to Sino-Japanese with diacritical marks. Think medieval Latin, but a bit more garbled. In Japan, kanbun is generally learned in the 2nd year of middle school (8th grade).

One option is to simply learn classical Chinese directly. My school is using a textbook by the late Prof. Archie Barnes which can teach you classical Chinese from scratch. If you already know Japanese this is a waste of time. Also, this textbook has some errors and omissions in it; there is no particularly good classical Chinese textbook for English speakers out there. Finally, this textbook is not a good preparation for reading medieval Japanese kanbun from scratch.

If you want to learn kanbun like a proper Japanese schoolboy, you will find it a lot easier than one might expect from looking at frightening walls of Chinese text. Japanese Wikibooks has a guide that can be mastered in a number of minutes. For more complex kanbun there is a high school guide that takes a couple of hours.

To look up Chinese characters you need a good kanji dictionary. If you are learning English->Chinese, Mathews’ dictionary is pretty standard. But it is not very fun, especially because you are more likely to induce errors into your translation from the outdated nature of the book than to make new discoveries. If you want real fun, get Kanjikai, which is up to date and will challenge your Japanese knowledge.

When reading original texts you will find that some variant characters that are not locatable in Kanjikai or any standard dictionaries at all. This is just a pain in the butt because there is no easy way to look these up. If you don’t have a knowledgeable specialist on hand, your best bet is to plug a guess into Hanzi Normative Glyphs and see if your character comes up.

Kuzushiji 崩し字

A while ago a blog post about how to read kuzushiji floated through Reddit. I scanned through it, opened up the PDF file (mirror), and thought to myself, “is this guy a masochist?” That was the end of my thoughts about kuzushiji until this year, when I attempted to read an Edo period document myself, opened up the PDF file again, and thought, “am I a masochist?”

Understanding how kuzushiji works makes it no less insane. Digging in deep, I found a set of Waseda University OpenCourseWare lectures from 2004. Listen to these and you might begin to see an approach to deciphering the doctor’s prescription scribbles that are pre-Meiji literature. However, the course will by no means give you the ability to actually read the things.

The only online resource I know of for this is U Tokyo’s mysteriously named SHIPS, and it will not be very helpful because you have to know roughly what kanji you are looking for.

Vocabulary and Grammar

If you run into some medieval Japanese that doesn’t appear in a modern dictionary, you should really just get a high school prep book (they have anime versions!), but Googling it rarely fails me. You may run into a website called Gejirin proffering an attempt at definition. This is a website devoted to the parahistorical document Hotsuma Tsutaye and is basically amateur-run. Don’t rely on it like you would a full medieval dictionary, but it can help point you in the right direction.

Grammar is something I’m just starting to wrap my head around. There is stuff out there online, but this too probably requires a formal textbook.

Posted: September 27th, 2013 | Japan

First ever English translation of the Hitsuki Shinji

I cannot claim to have made the first translation of the Hitsuki Shinji. It was made in March 1949 by unknown of Okamoto’s followers. Unfortunately I don’t have the whole thing. The top half of it was printed in 『岡本天明伝』 in 2012 and I would have to go to the National Diet Library to see the rest. I don’t have time to do that

[edit: April 2015 — Today I had the time to go to the National Diet Library and inspect the original document. I’ve added some of the remaining English text to the transcript below.]



What is Hikarikyokwai Society?

Jehova revealed Himself to those elects of old Judea in the times when He felt that it is necessary to do so. Books of Moses were written like that and those books of prophets the same. However, if we limit that such a revelation could be given only to them, St. John’s revelation as the last and never afterward, doesn’t it sound unreasonable? Why can’t Jehova have any elects among those nations which are not Jews? Isn’t hat also thinkable that God is willing to reveal Himself to the Asiatic nations sometimes?

Swedenbrog had to explain exactly the same sort of thing while he was woking hard to write down what the Lord has shown him in 18th century. Zeal of these notes is to introduce that we have the same sort of case which has taken place here in Japan since June of 1944.

It was in the suite of Shinto shrine Mahgata, in Kohzu-mura, Chiba prefecture, when a Japanese painter Mr. Okamoto was there. He got a kind of shock and painful impulses to write. He wrote down what he himself could not read at all at the beginning. But it was much afterward that those writings were found to be quite valuable.

They can be said a revelation of Ameno Hitsukunokami dictated by Hitsukunokami, that is a kind of divine revelation that was given to Japanese nation at the close of the war. However, we are convinced that this revelation is not addressed only to Japanese alone but to whole nation of the world, and that’s the reason the Hikarikyokwai Society started to publish this tabloid both in English and Japanese.

Concerning the reasons why it can be said divine revelation addressed to the whole nation of the world, shall be understood with the study of the said revelation itself, which would be introduced here afterwards. However, some characteristic points of the said revelation is that it shows very intimate relationship between so called divine scriptures of the world.

There are many who found very deep truth in it and who are convinced that things shown through the revelation are true and the commandments written in it must be fulfilled. Hikarikyokwai Society is the name to the group of such people.

Following is the English translation of another part from the revelation. [This is from Book 1, Chapter 1. –AHM]

Behold! Fuji has driven off clouds of chaos, and all heavens are cleared.

The time has come at last when true God of kingdom of maruchon will show His mighty power. Buddhism, Christianity, and even Islamism shall be united for this sacred mission.

There shall be no need of difficult theories nor logics, neither any hardship of livelihood. God will provide you such a happy and merry world, therefore, seek after the truth with earnestness, purifying your spirit in cessantly. Hoewver, there lies a tribulation before the Kingdom of God comes. Unless you are purified and cleansed, you shall not be able to preserve yourself through this tribulation. Becauss this is the tribulation, such as was not since the very beginning of the world to this time, nor shall ever be. And the end of this tribulation shall never be brought unles God’s power is revealed.

Everything that shall happen from now on is absolutely beyond the capacity of human conception.

Kingdom consisted of purified souls shall gain real power, however, kingdom of dirty spirit shall not be able domminant any more.

Cities must be purified and the rustic place must be purifies as well, but the most significant of all is the purification of man.

Example of original writing. 一んねんTけ二〇かmaruchonの三三一四もの一二四キ・T一八〇二もか〇二もか三〇つれ十も四で

English translation from the original writing, illustrated. “This revelation can be understood in the measure of the depth of each soul destined to understand. The time has come the divine truth shall be preached. If not even stones shall take the role of human souls. Let us hear that the nature, mountain river and else, is revealing the divine truth day and night.”

[Bibliography removed for revisions]

Posted: July 24th, 2013 | Kokoro, Secular-Religious

The Tale of His Majesty’s Capital

In the sixth ward of Asakusa’s theater district, there is a little storefront where the crowds never thin. It’s not an aquarium, nor is it a sideshow. It is, of course, the “haunted house”. Long-necked hags, knife-handed beasts, mermaids, and snake-women beckon spectators from the signboards.

Of course, we can’t forget the Ryōunkaku, the nation’s first skyscraper. Ascend to the twelfth story of that great tower, and all the splendor of His Majesty the Meiji Emperor’s Imperial Capital stretches out before your eyes. To speak of the fruits of civilization and development, we must be reminded of that twelve-story “Ele-Vator”. Thanks to the power of this device all of us may ascend to the very top.

But today, the curtains have been raised on one program that will catch the eyes of all Asakusa. The title: “The Exorcism of Rashōmon!”

The rabble assembling below the Ryōunkaku, the women of ignoble trades, the honky-tonk(?) Salvation Army band trying to save their souls, maids and apprentices with a half-day’s freedom, clerks of the big storefronts, everyone, everyone lines up for the peep-hole show.

Right in front of the doorman, an unasked-for barker drums up the crowd in a high-pitched voice. From inside the room we hear an accompaniment of well-kept bells ringing, twinkle, twinkle

Step right up, step right up, His Majesty’s Realm is full of civilization and development, and our peep-hole show is like never before!

Step right up, step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and feast your eyes upon the Oni of Rashōmon! We’ve got an Oni! The Oni is here!

Observe, if you will, within the peep-hole, the arm of the oni itself. Shock as you watch it claw towards heaven, writhing in agony!

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an educational experience, a once-in-a-lifetime experience you can tell your grandchildren about, the arm of a living oni, something you’ll never see again, so have a look today!

Before you’ve even time to be surprised, look again within the peep-hole, and there she is, the snake-woman. Observe this sorry girl, born in the northern wilderness, where her woodsman father one day struck the trunk of a viper with his hoe. His children were punished by the viper’s curse, and this is the sad result!

Eighteen years of age this year, no legs, her trunk all wrapped up. Hanako’s her name, Hana-chan to her friends! Ten cents an adult, five cents a child. Half price for one eye, but women with child pay double!

Step right up, step right up. It’s an Oni, an Oni, the Oni is here! In the midst of civilized, developed, Tokyo, it’s a real, live Oni.

Look while you still can. It’s an Oni! The Oni is here!

It’s an Oni!

It’s an Oni!

Heeere’s the Oni!

The people of Tokyo, being invited by the Oni of Rashōmon, were taken up by the eerie sights and sounds of the little storefront. Oni, long-necked hags, snake-women, all the monsters of the pre-civilized past had come together in Asakusa. But these monsters were pathetic, captured creatures. None of them would ever take a single step outside the confines of the little storefront.

So, the safe, content people could get hooked on the spectacle of the monsters. They scowled at the snake-women and mermaids. But at the same time, none of them knew that one quite uncaptured, raging, and real Oni had begun swaggering its way towards His Majesty’s Capital Tokyo.

So it was, that in the 40th year of Emperor Meiji, that oni was revealing the famous 2000-year grudge of the oni as, unaided, he slipped into the Emperor’s capital…

Posted: June 29th, 2013 | Translations 3 Comments »

Japan reporting, take III

Here’s another example of strange Japan reporting that is plopped into American newspapers every day. I have a suspicion that the American media has similarly rubbish standards for reporting on other “faraway” countries like Germany, but I know Japan, so let’s peer inside a Japan story.

Social-network gaffes plague Japanese politicians

When I open up a Japanese newspaper I am always happy to be treated to a broad span of news, which besides usual entertainment and sports, might include complex stuff like labor union negotiations, proposed law revisions, international affairs, etc. etc. The only American-produced mainstream source which I am aware of for this kind of stuff is the Wall Street Journal‘s excellent Japan Real Time blog. In today’s posts alone, the WSJ gives us both amusing sidebars, like “ McDonald’s Premium Burgers an Abenomics Indicator? “, and good indications of what’s going on in the country, like “Constitution Talk-Fest Draws a Crowd“. The coverage is brief but decent and I imagine one story every day could be chosen to run in a national print newspaper.

I have a Google News feed that gives me all the Japan-related stories in English. The WSJ stories appear to be limited to their blog and are not reprinted in any newspapers. Instead, newspapers across the country print tosh like the AP story linked above, a collection of recent gaffes made by random high and low officials in Japan (not even part of a single group, just completely unrelated people), which can not really be said to inform the reader about what is going on in the country.

Okay, whatever, it’s a bad story. But it’s bad in a really strange way, that as far as I can tell is part of an extremely consistent pattern with American reporting on Japan.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: June 19th, 2013 | Japan

A whale of a tale

Ahoy, me hearties! Are ye ready for a sail on the S.S. New York Times? Come with me through the colorful Sea of Invented Trend Stories, avoiding the Rocks of Outright Fabrication by a treacherous journey through the Straits of Distortion!

Surely you can’t have forgotten our last encounter with New York Times Japan reporting. Well, here’s a little flashback to 2002, when they declared, “Yuk! No More Stomach for Whales“.

SHIMONOSEKI, Japan, May 24 — High on a bluff in a city park here stands the Whale Museum, a whimsical creation where children once clambered up white-painted steps into the tail of a concrete blue whale, passed historical exhibits, then peered through a Moby Dick-sized mouth at a port once busy with ships returning with whale hauls from Antarctica.

But the museum is now padlocked. The company that donated the museum in 1958, a year when whaling supplied one-third of the meat consumed in Japan, has changed hands. The new owner did not want to finance a project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals.

Okay, now before you read what actually happened, look over those two paragraphs. What common sense conclusions can you make? Was there a museum devoted to whaling in Shimonoseki? Is there still such a museum? Did the owner change his mind about his support for whaling?

Here’s what actually happened in Shimonoseki, which the Times never saw fit to report on. Spoilers ahead!

  1. The structure being referred to was not a “Whale Museum”. It was an aquarium! Specifically, the shuttered institution was called the Shimonoseki City Aquarium下関市立水族館. The popular nickname for one of the buildings at the aquarium was the “Whale Building”くじら館, because it was shaped like a whale — duh.
  2. The donation occurred in 1956, not 1958. The “company that donated the museum”, that is, the local business that donated a whale-shaped building housing an emperor penguin exhibit to a city aquarium, was a seafood operation called Maruha Nichiro Seafoods, Inc. At the time it had several different fishery and whaling businesses going, but a giant salmon probably would not have been a very exciting addition to the aquarium.
  3. The aquarium is not “a project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals.” It is the Shimonoseki City Aquarium. I regret to inform the New York Times that whales are too large for aquariums.
  4. The aquarium is city property and has nothing to do with Maruha which since 1956 has relocated to Tokyo and no longer has an office in Shimonoseki. Note the very careful wording of these three sentences: “The museum is now padlocked. The company … has changed hands. The new owner…” They strongly imply that the new owner of the company has control over whether the aquarium is open or closed, when in fact, it is a public aquarium in Shimonoseki that has nothing to do with a private business in Tokyo.
  5. Maruha turned over its whaling operations to the Institute of Cetacean Research following international law on the matter, but the company was still canning whale meat when the story was written in 2002, so its “owner” could hardly be opposed to whaling. I am guessing, given the deceptive way the sentence is constructed, is that he actually “did not want to finance” a public aquarium in his corporation’s former headquarters hundreds of kilometers away from his office, which is far from obvious from the wording given.
  6. All that deception builds up to this revelation, which reflects horribly on the heartlessness of the journalist who fabricated this story: The aquarium is not “padlocked” because nobody wants to fund it anymore. It was destroyed by a typhoon in 1999.
  7. The article implies that the aquarium does not exist anymore. Actually, in 2001 the exhibits were moved to the Shimonoseki City Shimonoseki Aquarium, which is also shaped like a whale.

In summary, here are those same two paragraphs, annotated.

SHIMONOSEKI, Japan, May 24 — High on a bluff in a city park here stands the remains of the Whale Building of what was once the city aquarium, a type of structure which a lunatic might call a Museum. This building, which housed one of the exhibits of the aquarium, was a whimsical creation where children once clambered up white-painted steps into the tail of a concrete blue whale, passed historical exhibits, then peered through a Moby Dick-sized mouth at a port once busy with ships returning with whale hauls from Antarctica.

But as the result of a non-political, freak disaster which caused animals to die and which anyone with a soul would call unfortunate, the ruin of the former aquarium which only a moron could confuse for a museum is now padlocked not due to any lack of interest from the local public, but owing to the unwanted patronage of a typhoon which tore it up; this information need not grace the ears of our readers. Thankfully a new aquarium also shaped like a whale has opened in its place; but we see no need to tell you this, either. Rather, we would like to share, although it is completely unrelated and irrelevant, that the company that donated the building shaped like a whale to the former aquarium which we continue to refer to as a museum in 1956, a year some have been known to confuse with 1958, a year when whaling supplied one-third of the meat consumed in Japan, has changed hands and locations, although it continues to process whale meat. Wasn’t that enlightening? The new owner lives in Tokyo, so he did not want to donate to, or “finance“, the Shimonoseki city aquarium, understandably. But this is unrelated to whaling, and he had no control over the typhoon, nor did his company ever have control over the opening hours of either of the aquariums, which we will happily conflate into one and the same “Whale Museum”. We will also happily slander both institutions, which have educated children about the city’s most important industry for over 60 years, as a single project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals and nothing else, although such an inaccurate characterization of two aquariums was clearly irrelevant to the “owner” of the Tokyo company, since his company continued to process, can, and sell whale meat to customers across the country as of press time.

What did you think, everyone? Did the New York Times accurately report the tragedy of a beloved city aquarium destroyed by a typhoon?

Are you getting your news about Japan through the New York Times? Well, you should stop doing that!

Posted: May 27th, 2013 | Japan, Res pueriles

Wang Yangming on Gornahoor

I have published an essay about the Confucian scholar Wang Yangming on Anyone will be able to enjoy this exposition of Traditional doctrine. Below is an appendix to that post.

Yōmeigaku, the study of Yangming’s teachings in Japan, was especially prominent during the period of modernization. During the Russo-Japanese War, Emperor Meiji did a perfect imitation of Evola’s anecdote:

During the Russo-Japanese War, the emperor never felt impelled to offer advice on the conduct of the war, and he rarely revealed his emotions, even when told of Japanese victories. As soon as he learned of the fall of Port Arthur, the vice chief of the general staff, Nagaoka Gaishi, rushed to the palace to inform the emperor. … Nagaoke, too overcome by joy to even wait for the emperor to be seated, declared that serving as the messenger of glorious news was the greatest blessing of his life. Having blurted out these words, he started to make his report. He looked up at the emperor’s face. It was calm and self-possessed, exactly as it always was, not revealing a trace of emotion. During the fifteen or sixteen minutes while Nagaoka described the victory, the emperor nodded almost imperceptibly a few times … Nagaoka was deeply disappointed. [Donald Keene, Meiji and His World, 619]

During that war, the Admiral of the Japanese Navy is known to have carried a stamp with him that read, “A life dedicated to following the example of Yōmei”.

Yōmeigaku was shoved aside after 1945 to make way for foreign ideologies, but it captured the interest of Yukio Mishima. Just before his failed coup d’état, he wrote an article on “Yōmeigaku as a Revolutionary Philosophy”. The newspapers of 1972 were written by young, postwar-educated reporters who had no idea of even the most basic tenets of Yōmeigaku, but that didn’t stop them from blaming the unfamiliar old tradition for driving Mishima to suicidal heroism, and if you Google any of these terms today you will find all sorts of baseless slanders about the philosophy online. This is a shame, because both Japan and the world have much to learn from Wang Yangming

Posted: May 13th, 2013 | Confucius, Kokoro

Foreign shrinekeeper in Shibuya

Green Shinto reports that a European is now a shrinekeeper at a major shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo. This position required top-level appointment.

Unlike Green Shinto, I don’t consider this a “breakthrough” from the Japanese side. Shintoists have theorized about shrines for other nations since the 19th century. Although there was strong opposition from the populace to letting foreigners enter Japan at all, shrinekeepers have never moved to stop anyone from visiting shrines. On the contrary, shrines are considered so nonsectarian that there was no objection to exporting shrine practices to Hawaii, Brazil, Korea, Taiwan, and Manchuria. Recently a shrine was built in Washington with foreigners as its specific mission.

It is certainly a “breakthrough” on the side of the gentleman who had to learn all the norito, though. Good work, Rev. Wiltschko!

Posted: May 4th, 2013 | Kokoro

Kure Tomofusa, on Mishima Yukio and devotion

A little translation about everyone’s favorite Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima today. Here’s a capsule summary of Mishima’s attempted coup, from Counter Currents:

The General was bound and gagged. Close fighting ensued as officers several times entered the general’s office. Mishima and his small band each time forced the officers to retreat. Finally, they were herded out with broad strokes of Mishima’s sword against their buttocks. A thousand soldiers assembled on the parade ground. Two of Mishima’s men dropped leaflets from the balcony above, calling for a rebellion to “restore Nippon.”

Precisely at mid-day, Mishima appeared on the balcony to address the crowd. Shouting above the noise of helicopters he declared: “Japanese people today think of money, just money: Where is our national spirit today? The Self-Defense Forces must be the soul of Japan.”

The soldiers jeered. Mishima continued: “The nation has no spiritual foundation. That is why you don’t agree with me. You will just be American mercenaries. There you are in your tiny world. You do nothing for Japan.” His last words were: “I salute the Emperor. Long live the emperor!”

Professor Kure Tomofusa is a self-described “Confucian” and “feudalist” at Kyoto University. The following is a translation of Kure’s comments on Mishima’s coup, from his article “The End of the Age of ‘Devotion'”.

A summary of the first two sections: At this time in Japan, tiny Maoist and Stalinist groups were having street fights with each other and violently purging, sometimes murdering, their own members. You can read more about this at the Wikipedia articles on the United Red Army and Japan Red Army so I will not translate this part. Mishima’s actions were met with much harsher condemnation in the mainstream media than the leftist groups. Now, here’s the good part.

From Honesty to Ridicule


If you want to call it natural, it was natural. For a novelist— not a superior officer, but a novelist– to suddenly appear on the balcony and ask them to rise up, there could not have been any expectation that the Self-Defense Forces could have any clue what was going on. Being unreasonably interrupted in the middle of their break would have only added to their annoyance. Mishima Yukio called out boldly to all who would hear. It was a naturally meaningless act, since the officers did not have a “legal duty” to listen to what they were hearing. “Are you not warriors, men?” rebuked Mishima. The officers’ reply was derisive heckling. Were they warriors? No one expected them to be. The Self-Defense Forces are not warriors but bureaucrats appointed by the Self-Defense Law.

Mishima Yukio committed his savings to the Tatenokai, a militia standing at the front against communist conspiracies from China, North Korea, or the Soviets… Mishima was devoted in his actions. This was not the frivolous pastime of a novelist. But… the Self-Defense Forces work only from the obligation of the duties of their job, and are granted their authority only by the law. They are a government bureau. Literally speaking, they are a government bureau on the basis of being an administrative organ.

A group of bureaucrats just doing their job was being respected more than a devoted warrior, on the sole basis of their relation to the administrative organ. This signaled the dawn of a new kind of value. In other words, thus began the age of “practicality”.

I am not denying the value of practicality. Despite the force and the romance of devotion, the effectiveness of “practicality” can bring people happiness. An age that longs for a hero is an unhappy one. An age that respects philosophy, and critical thought, and high literature is also an unhappy one. After the 1970s, Japan sought to separate itself from that unhappy age. Not only heroes, but also philosophy, thought, and literature, in sum all our serious “devotion” got down on bended knees before “practicality” and prayed for an era of happiness. Ritual suicide? What nonsense! Ridicule it!

But the age could not be abandoned that easily. Even in an age of practicality, people long for devotedness. And as if to fulfill that longing, in 1995 a twisted, parodic “devotion” showed its hideous face: the Aum gas attacks. Some of the leftists talked about this with words like “frightening”, “gruesome”, “ghastly”. But, the truly gruesome, ghastly, frightening incident came with the passing of the age when Mishima could die for his devotion. That “devotion”, which we thought we had smothered under a veil of “practicality”, had hideously returned from the dead, like a zombie.

Source: 呉智英 「『本気』の時代の終焉」 in 「三島由紀夫が死んだ日」(2005) excerpted in 『健全なる精神』 2012

Posted: March 13th, 2013 | Japan 1 Comment »